Bratislava, the capitol of Slovakia, is not an obvious beauty. The cold Socialist realism of the Eastern bloc with its massive, geometrical shapes is omnipresent in the city’s architecture. Highlights from earlier historical periods can’t subdue or neutralize its effect. But the city definitely has its assets. The biggest one is that there are no hordes of tourists. In fact, you will hardly encounter people én masse in a way you do in pretty much every other European capitol. The city is relatively small (approx. half a million inhabitants). Streets, cafes, restaurants and clubs are smaller and emptier than you are probably used to, their offer and service, however, are standard. Beer is cheap, coffee isn’t (the latter one being much more important for me). Slovakia hasn’t been affected by major migration movements in the past or the present in the way other big European cities have, because it was considered uninteresting. Towns in the proximity were regarded as more attractive. Vienna, for example, is only 55 km air-line distance away, an hour by train. What might have looked like a disadvantage has turned into a major advantage, because there is no overcrowding. The atmosphere in the city is calm and relaxed, you feel safe too. No one bothered me, not even while walking around alone at night.

The Crippled Black Phoenix show I had come to see took place in Bratislava’s club Kulturak which is placed in the basement of an apartment building in a residential area and has the cleanest, shiniest toilets I have ever seen in any alternative club. Kulturak fits maybe 200 people. The show had been announced to start as early as seven o’clock in the evening, featuring three bands: Povodi Ohre (CZ), Devil’s Trade (HU), and Crippled Black Phoenix (UK). I had been pretty sure that they wouldn’t really start at seven, but when I came to the venue, Povodi Ohre were already playing. The audience seemed to like their folksy rock.

Next up was Devil’s Trade, a one-man project, which had bad been announced as support for the Crippled Black Phoenix tour. This would be Devil’s Trade’s first show. In a time, when you can incorporate pretty much any sound into your music, it’s quite refreshing to see someone go back to the basics: vocals and an instrument. David Makò, who is the Devil’s Trade, uses his expressive and strong voice most effectively. In Bratislava he interpreted mostly folk songs from the American Appalachian Region and some songs from Transylvania. With his voice, the sound of his stomping feet and an electric guitar or a banjo he successfully creates a melancholy, dark, emotion-laden, thick atmosphere. I had not expected to hear folk songs from the American South in Slovakia, but it was a pleasant surprise, especially since the club also has places to sit along its walls (I’m too old to stand for three hours straight). I sat down and closed my eyes and listened to the melancholia and the pain that had crossed oceans and enjoyed the music.

Crippled Black Phoenix started shortly after eight o’clock. By then, the club had filled up nicely with maybe 150 people. The show started with an empty stage and, like the new album Great Escape, with a quote by the British philosopher Alan Watts. After that followed the new album’s first song To You I Give. The club’s stage has an unusual triangular shape, and since CBP have eight musicians, among them three guitarists, the stage was quite crowded. The drummer was tucked away at the far end of the triangle so that I couldn’t get a good look at him all night. After the first song the bass amp died, and the band asked the audience if anybody had brought any bass amps. The problem was quickly fixed, however, and the show continued. The band played a good cross-section of their albums, mainly songs from Bronze, I, Vigilante, and the Great Escape. As always with CBP, and probably intended, the music is difficult to describe and pin down. There are sludgy and doomy moments, walls of sound, melancholia, a bit of psychedelia, and bluesy parts. The audience reacted most strongly to Rise up and Fight and to Burt Reynolds, which the band played at the very end, singing together with the audience and with Justin Greaves among them. The show lasted full two hours.

The most apparent thing, I’d say, about a Crippled Black Phoenix show is that the band and the audience are friends. The atmosphere is relaxed and there is a feeling of mutual liking in the air.

I was a bit sorry that they didn’t play any of the covers from their last EP Horrific Honorifics, which is my personal favourite. Maybe next time.

I’ll certainly go see the band again should I get the chance, and I wouldn’t mind visiting Bratislava again either.

(Review and Photos Slavica)